- Image Credit (Car and Driver)

The American Underdog is Quietly Winning

The company everyone loves to hate is gaining some serious ground on the competitors.

2y ago

Fiat-Chrysler has been doing awful well recently. Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't.

It's not either namesake brand that's raking in the dough, neither Fiat nor Chrysler is doing particularly well lately. In fact, everyone was expecting the Chrysler brand to get the Plymouth treatment a few months ago. It seems nobody wanted the 200, nobody will want the 300, but just barely enough people are settling for a Pacifica.

Don't get me wrong, both the 300 and Pacifica are pretty damn great, actually. But nobody is ponying up the cash for one because housing-crisis era Chrysler left a bad taste in their mouths. Now they're fleeing to the safety of their plastic Korean econo-bubble Kias and Hyundais.

Fiat too, struggles to sell whatever the hell they're calling cars these days. The 500 is pretty cool, I've always thought the Abarth variant would make a fun commuter car. Then there's the 124 Miat- er, Spyder. Badge engineering is nothing new, but come on man. It is the future, after all. What else, what else? Oh, the 500ex! 500x? You know what, I don't care. All I remember is that it's the most revolting modern car I've ever seen in person. I'm sure you've spotted them too, on your way to buy groceries and yelled "GOOD GOD, MAN!" from the safety of your Passat. It really has a way of disrupting your day, seeing such a bulbous cartoon of a vehicle assault your line of sight. It's as if Fiat stylists saw a picture of a standard 500 that'd survived a grenade exploding in the glovebox and went "That there is art. I must capture the suffering for future generations." Does Fiat even make any other cars? I'm not bothering to check because nobody buys them here, anyway.

If you look too long, you'll turn to stone. (Image: Car and Driver)

If you look too long, you'll turn to stone. (Image: Car and Driver)

Dodge is a bit more of a mixed bag. The division has some real winners and a handful of raging dumpster fires. The Hellcat has really made waves in the past few years with the "Supercharge Everything" policy. The Hellcat started as, really, a way to cash in on midlife crises. Now, it's an entire lineup: Charger Hellcat, Challenger Hellcat, Challenger Hellcat Widebody, Challenger Hellcat Redeye, Challenger Hellcat Redeye Widebody, Challenger SRT Demon, Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody, and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. In 2015, it only included the first two entries on that list.

You can have the Challenger in an impressive number of flavors. 14 trim levels, last time I checked. In a segment that's decreasing in sales overall (Camaro & Mustang), the Challenger continues to sell in increasing quantities. The Charger also sells strong in its ever-decreasing segment (Large Sedan). Where others have folded on powerful 4-doors, like the Chevy SS, the Charger maintains it's relevance with enough flavors for everyone like an efficient yet powerful V6 AWD, monstrous naturally aspirated V8's, or the pinnacle 717 horsepower Hellcat trim.

Sure, it lacks the 717hp punch of its Hellcat sibling, but this Daytona 392 Charger is just as pretty and packs nearly 500hp for a lot less cash. 4 doors means your kids will never be late for school again.

Sure, it lacks the 717hp punch of its Hellcat sibling, but this Daytona 392 Charger is just as pretty and packs nearly 500hp for a lot less cash. 4 doors means your kids will never be late for school again.

The Durango and Journey are less clear-cut. The Durango is a strong competitor in the mid-to-large SUV segment. It's especially enticing for those with Hellcat ambitions- the Durango is available in R/T trim with horses deep into the 300 range, or the SRT trim with a 6.4L Hemi for just short of 500 horsepower. But, this beast is getting old. The current generation is going on a decade in production.

The Journey is not a good vehicle. It is built for people whose car buying checklist is as follows: big, cheap. You can get them with AWD, of course, because people are afraid of weather. What can't be had with AWD these days, really? But the mechanical are beyond lacking. A base Journey comes with a naturally aspirated 2.4L I4 with 184hp. The same engine in my father's Dart is pretty damn gutless. On top of that, the base transmission is a 4-speed. In 2018, a car has a 4-speed automatic transmission. Aren't we better than this, Dodge? Everyone has nearly a double-digit number of gears now, and you're still stuck in 1982? Sure, you can have your Journey with an acceptable 6 speeds and 283 horsepower- but the people buying a Journey aren't checking those options. Because, if you're bothering to spend that extra money, you're more likely ending up in the undeniably superior Durango. There's also the Caravan, which is alright. (And the best-selling Dodge vehicle by far)

Let's Talk Jeeps and Rams

Jeep is the reason Fiat bought Chrysler. Jeep is making an eye-watering amount of money lately, because everyone wants a 4WD/AWD SUV, and that's literally the only thing Jeep makes. And I'm not misusing the word literally, every single Jeep has at least the option of power at all 4 wheels, but it's standard on many.

As of September, Jeep had sold about 750,000 units in the US. That's up an incredible 20% from the same period in 2017. It's because the new Compass is catching on, with sales up 146%, plus the refreshed Cherokee and Wrangler up 53% and 27%, respectively.

If that doesn't sound impressive, consider this: in that same period, Jeep sold more vehicles in the US than Dodge, Chrysler, Fiat, and Alfa-Romeo COMBINED. In fact, 4 models of Jeep (the Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, Compass, and Wrangler) each INDIVIDUALLY outsold the entire Chrysler lineup at over 130,000 units sold for each model.

FCA plans multiple new Jeep models in the next few years because your most obvious bet is on the horse that's already winning. But it seems FCA also sees another rising star in RAM.

As you've inevitably seen at some point, the RAM 1500 is all-new for 2018. And it's brilliant. I haven't been in one yet, but I don't know that I've ever seen such an overwhelming consensus on a vehicle dominating its segment. The interior is ruggedly luxurious, the touchscreen is enormous, the ride is comfortable and the mileage is remarkable. Yet, these Rams come with solid torque and rugged off-road capability. They truly can do everything well. Maybe that's why they can sell half a million trucks in 9 months.

I can't even find a comprehensive list of all the new Ram's awards for 2018, because it's more or less sweeping the board. Ford and Chevy haven't even bothered showing at a few of the competitions this year. I'm not saying that they're scared, but... Have you seen the new Silverado HD? Ugh. It looks to be screaming in horror because it, too, is terrified of its ridiculous face.

RAM's performance lately has earned it some respect from corporate, because the engineers are cleared to develop a new mid-sized truck. It will compete with the Chevy Colorado (and GMC Canyon), Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and upcoming Ford Ranger. If it's anything like its big brother, the new RAM will bring solid competition to the increasingly competitive segment.


So, Jeep sales are skyrocketing. Ram trucks are getting better by the minute, and Dodges are still selling steady on an outdated architecture with their new "Performance is Everything" image. Fiat-Chrysler can use this increase in revenue to invest in keeping their vehicles ahead of the curve. They've already started, actually. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan in available as a plug-in hybrid that's quite good, and the Ram 1500 now comes with a mild hybrid system as standard!

Maybe it really is the future, after all.

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Comments (15)

  • It would do even more wondrously if someone in a US boardroom suddenly said, "Hold it, I wonder if these Australians would like the Ram?" I bet they would.

      2 years ago
  • Jeep has always been a quiet juggernaut. Jeep carried AMC through. Unfortunately AMC got into AWD too early with cars that were too late. Chrysler and Dodge are in a very strange position. Would anyone buy Chrysler or Dodge without Jeep or Ram? Probably not.

    Fiat completely botched bringing in Fiats to the US. There are few dealers and service departments. Most Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram dealerships and service departments won't service a Fiat. Full stop. Apparently FCA made this an option, not a requirement.

    Fiat, Alfa and Maserati should have one dealer/service structure. Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep should have one dealer/service structure. It sounds ridiculous but as an ex-Fiat owner I can say there's a problem there.

    The 500L should have been jettisoned a long time ago, and a long wheelbase 500X should have replaced it. The 500X is basically a Renegade that doesn't look like a tin lunch box.

      2 years ago
  • We had a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Then we totaled it. So we're on the market right now, looking at comparable SUVs.

    So here's the thing. I know bad things about the Jeep. I know about transmission issues. Integrated circuit issues. Did I mention transmission issues? Any Korean manufacturer's warranty has the Jeep's covered like a bull covers a cow.

    And yet I just know what's going to happen. We are going to look at it all and buy the same Jeep again. Because nothing touches the Jeep in that segment at the moment. Once you have had a Grand Cherokee, any other SUV feels "not quite".

      2 years ago
    • Yes, there's certainly an allure from the incredibly premium interiors and undeniable off-road dominance that you can't get anywhere else (in that price bracket)

        2 years ago
    • the interior, while the materials are nice, has its faults. The UI of the infotament system was done by somebody fresh out of school and with no artistic talent, for example. I have to keep it in night mode all the time just to make it bearable to...

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        2 years ago
  • The JL and JK Wranglers are maybe the best SUV’s of our time for the money (and it’s not cheap)- the simplicity of it just wins - but with the new Gladiator JT, RAM will end up as superfluous as BMW’s lineup.

    If they mix Ram and Dodge together, offer stuff such as Hellcat/Demon Ram and the “shaker” ram as standard, making muscle cars/trucks out of the brand, then Ram has a solid chance to survive the oncoming Ford/Rivian/Chevy tech-onslaught. With everyone drinking the kool aid that every product will eventually be Hybrid/EV, it’s like only Mazda (others too) decided to tighten the belt and dedicate to the ICE alternative. Imagine a $50k Ram Demon... sure would sell like them Wranglers!

      2 years ago
  • Good article! The only part I really disagree with is calling Dodge a "mixed bag". Their total sales this year (as of November) has been 426K. They're doing pretty well for themselves, especially when everyone calls RAM and Jeep "FCA's money makers". RAM has done 529K overall sales this year (albeit most of that is with their pickups alone).

    Outside of pure sales, I think the two true duds in Dodges lineup are the Grand Caravan and the Journey. Those are the two cars that have been lacking any sort of significant update since about 2011. The Durango is indeed old but so are the Charger and Challenger (both of which have been in production for at least a decade, like the Durango).

    (Here's the source to the sales statistics I cited: www.allpar.com/news/2018/12/fca-sales-up-and-down-but-mostly-up-43033).

      2 years ago
    • Thanks! I should have specified more, I think the lineup is a mixed bag. The sales are pretty good, considering it's FCA's 3rd best-selling brand in the US. It's just time to ditch the Grand Caravan for the Pacifica, and the Journey needs a...

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        2 years ago